6 Surprising Names: Homespun Nicknames

For the next couple of weeks we are going to discuss surprising names with various themes. Last week, the topic was 6 Surprising Names of the Garden Variety. This week, the topic is surprising homespun nicknames.

Homespun Nicknames

Nickname-names have taken hold in the U.K.. But the U.S. hasn’t been completely immune to this trend. Sadie saw a mini-resurgence, recently peaking at #107 in 2007, more than a century after hitting an all time peak at #69 in 1881 (1880 is the first year data is available). Sadie is a revival namewith a reverse J curve pattern, meaning it came back a little but did not surpass its highest peak. Another homespun nickname fitting this revival pattern is Maggie, which recently hit its second peak at #181 in 2007 and an all-time peak at #46 in 1880.

These examples show that perhaps this style is five years past peak, old news even in the U.S. But before making that conclusion, note there are some newcomers from this genre:

  • Charlie as a given name is coming back in style for both boys (#236) and girls (#376).
  • Millie, a top 100 name in the U.K., just re-entered the top 1000 in 2008 and has edged upwards to #815 last year.
  • Elsie is one of 2011’s big climbers, rising 165 places from #645 in 2010 to #480.
  • And the biggest climber of 2011 is the Briella, possibly a short form of Gabriella, which rose 394 places from #891 in 2010 to #497 in 2011. (The similar Brielle, a short form for Gabrielle, is also climbing at a respectable pace, rising 66 places in 2011 from #192 to #126.)

This post wouldn’t be complete without giving homage to Josie (#256), a name that isn’t a newcomer, but has staying power, still gently climbing the charts. It seems homespun nicknames aren’t going away, the names representing the genre are simply changing.

With that said, there are still plenty of homespun nicknames that are surprising in the U.S and most of these are even uncommon in the U.K.

Bessie – There were only 9 girls in the U.S. and 25 girls in the U.K. named Bessie last year. Family research revealed my great-grandmother Lottie who was featured as our first great-grandmother name had a younger sister named Bessie. Perhaps this diminutive of Elizabeth is still held back because of its reputation as a “cow’s name”.

Effie – is spunky and smart, being both a diminutive of Euphemia and the anglicised form of the Scottish Oighrig. I would be surprised if this name doesn’t pop within the next couple of years. But as of last year, there were only 41 Effie’s born in the U.S. and 63 Effie’s born in the U.K..

Gordie – Made famous by the Canadian hockey player, Gordie Howe, this diminutive of Gordon remains under the radar. Gordie could not be found in the U.S. or U.K. baby name data, meaning last year there were fewer than 5 born in the U.S., and fewer than 3 born in the U.K. Gordie’s father, Gordon has been outside the U.S. top 1000 since 2009 and was given to 182 boys last year. In the U.K. there were only 6 Gordon’s born last year.

As for how Gordie fares in the retired hockey player’s homeland, it is hard to say since we could not find data for names outside the top 100 in Canada. But we can say that neither Gordie or Gordon were in Canada’s top 100 for 2011.

Huey – Forget about Donald Duck’s nephew. Huey is super cute, and maybe a little dorky, but perfect for those who like Geek-Chic. This diminutive of Hugh was given to 12 boys in the U.S. and 38 boys in the U.K last year (there were 21 Hughie’s in the U.K).

While Huey is very rare in the U.S., its father Hugh might be gently climbing the charts, but is still relatively uncommon ranking at #951. In the U.K. Hugh was given to 124 boys and was tied with several names for #349 in 2011.

Mamie – This is one of a few little known nicknames for Mary, along with stylish Mae, Molly, and Polly. This is also the known name of Meryl Streep’s daughter, born Mary Louise. Last year there were 23 born in the U.S. and 6 born in the U.K.

Nellie – This name seems like it should be popular, as the perfect sister for Sadie, yet Nellie was still outside the U.S. top 1000 in 2011, given to 114 newborn girls. In the U.K. there were 25 newborn girls named Nellie last year.

Further adding to the mystery about why Nellie isn’t more popular are the name’s relation to these popular names: Ella (#12), Eleanor (#150), Nora (#137) and Norah (#262).

While nickname names are stylish revival names, the names on this list are still surprising. Even Effie and Nellie, which aren’t completely under the radar and hold the most promise (weigh in on our poll to agree or disagree), still have fewer than 1000 search results on nameberry*

If these names are all outside the top 1000 in the U.S. Social Security Administration’s data, how did I decide which ones hold the most promise? Part of it was instinct, but I confirmed my instinct based on how these names fare on BabyCenter, a parenting site that has their own ranking system that often predicts baby name trends. Here are each name’s 2012 BabyCenter rankings:

  • Bessie – unranked
  • Effie – #2314
  • Gordie – unranked (#7516 the year before, 2011)
  • Huey – #5857
  • Mamie – #9950
  • Nellie – #1183

But note that none of these names are in the top 1000 on BabyCenter either. While we Americans are still more hesitant than our British counterparts to use nicknames as given names, the style is gaining acceptance here. These names are a great way to individually express this style.

Readers: Which surprising homespun nicknames are your favorites?

* These nameberry search result numbers are as of September 16, 2012 and could change at any time.

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  1. I absolutely adore Annie. I also love Bessie and Nellie, but as nicknames for Elisabeth and Helena. For some reason I only like Annie as a full name. Weird, I know. 🙂

  2. Millie is going gangbusters here – up 90 places last year. If it does that again it will be in the Top 20 for 2012! (Seems unlikely, but Top 100 very probable).

    I think Bessie is adorable; it’s in rare use here but given the differences in population size, more popular than in the US, and perhaps comparable to the UK.

    • That sounds similar to the pattern of Harper in the U.S. last year. It went from #119 in 2010 to #54 in 2011. It looks like Harper could be the next Madison.

  3. I picked Nellie as my favorite on the poll. But, I like Betsy better. If it had been on there instead of Bessie, I would have picked it.


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